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The Polenta Space

23 Feb

Perhaps it started months ago, when all of us New Yorkers were, under our breaths, cursing winter… I wanted winter… I craved winter… I wanted thick hearty foods… Gooey, sticky braised meatsGrainsSoupsRoastsPastasBreads.


It was during this time, when winter was shyly avoiding our fair coast (and this may seem silly) that we discovered polenta. Yes, that’s where the silly comes in. Discovering polenta? That’s like saying we discovered North America, yet, we (The Boy and I) had missed polenta. We were into grits, and risottos, and pastas cooked like risotto, and grains cooked liked risotto… but polenta had been but a momentary blip on the radar.

When I made the boar, the weirdness of the polenta having arrived in a shrink-wrapped sausage-like packaging totally outweighed my lust for creamy, delicious grains. It’s only been since moving, when I go grocery shopping on my lunch break that I discovered the utter, Nobel-deserving amazingess of 5-minute (and $2.49 a box!) instant polenta.


Radishes, Carrots, Polenta, Mint

5 minutes. Perfect, creamy, tasty polenta.

And last night I did a comparison against pasta. For basically the same size serving, polenta has about half the calories and carbohydrates (if you’re into that kind of thing) and slightly less fat than regular white wheat pasta. This comparison came about  after dinner, The Boy asked me, “So why aren’t we eating polenta two or three-times a week?” I tried to make it about health concerns, and I was sorely beaten into submission.

So, what’s my point? Polenta is an incredibly delicious and elegant blank canvas.

On Sunday, coming back from a shopping mission in the city, The Boy and I got into a discussion on cooked radishes. We conjectured as to whether they’d be any good cooked and decided it might be worth trying. We roasted them with carrots because I thought their sweetness would offset the radish’s bitterness, but it was totally unnecessary.

Roasted Radishes & Carrots

Radishes, when roasted, loose all of their bite. All. None. I found on the Internet those that praise the taming of their bite, but, uh, excuse me, the beauty of radishes is their bite. They were still delicious, but I must admit, I was a wee bit disappointed. I planned the meal around their assumed acerbicness. The carrots for sweetness. The polenta for smoothness. The ricotta for creaminess. All that aside though, it was a nice meal. The mint added that something extra, the perfect interplay with all the earthiness (I promise that’s the last -ness).

Conversely however… Braised escarole and polenta.

Suburban Brooklyn

The escarole had been purchased as supporting character in my Green & Gold soup, but had proved unnecessary. It sat in the crisper all week waiting for its turn as the star in a good after-work dinner. Finally, last night, it happened. The Boy minced garlic and washed and chopped the greens. When I got home all I had to do was brown the garlic in good olive oil, add the escarole and homemade stock and make the polenta.

The result? Something I hope Molly would approve of. She recently discovered escarole as a salad green, which was the only way I knew it until this past Christmas. My mom served it to us braised and I was gobsmacked. For thirty years she had served it to me as only a salad green. She’d been holding out on me.

Sauteed Escarole & Cheesey Polenta

Raw escarole is lovely, somewhere between romaine and radicchio, but the application of heat coaxes out a demure silkiness that I find tantalizing. The greens grasp the garlic and turn limpid in the hot oil yet retain a delightful crunchiness that is just so much more exciting than spinach.

Cooked for 7 minutes and served over creamy polenta with a dusting of pungent Romano cheese, it is the very best sort of weeknight dinner. Fast, healthy, utterly, seductively delicious.

So why haven’t we been eating this dish 2 or 3 times a week for the past 6 months? I don’t know, but it’s something I’m going to work hard at rectifying.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Roasty Toasty Radishes & Braised Escarole.

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